By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
Kidnappers, suicide bombers and turncoat clerics wreaking havoc on America's best-laid plans in Iraq: The view from the Unreal bunker shows only darkness and storms on the horizon. But at the Central West End headquarters of Optimist International, hope springs eternal. The St. Louis-based charity organization, perhaps best known for their excellent fish fries, barbecues and brotherhood, has just launched a Baghdad chapter of Optimist -- and not a moment too soon.
Optimist Baghdad was christened on March 31, with 29 people attending a meeting held in the compound that formerly housed head pessimist Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard. Most attendees were allied Optimists helping to get the country's fledgling government up and running, reports chapter president Ben Krause. But three were Iraqis, and he's hoping they'll help turn insurgents' frowns upside down.
"The people who work here, including our interpreters, are optimistic," says Krause. "I was just at the Ministry of Science and Technology, which is out in town, and a lot of them are scientists and so on. Very optimistic. They are pushing forward, looking forward."
While he was at the ministry, Krause says, four explosions erupted outside. "Nobody jumped or left the room or anything," he marvels. "To me, that says a lot for the people."
In short, where Unreal sees rain, Krause sees potential. He hopes eventually to move club meetings outside the compound's walls into Baghdad proper, where future Iraqi Optimists will learn to recite the Optimist Creed, a promise to, among other things, "forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile. To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble."
For now, Krause says, "There's really no time to have fish fries. We're working fifteen-hour days, and we sleep, and we're all here to help a country get on the right track."
But they are sponsoring an essay contest, "What a Free Iraq Means to Me," and nudging prominent Iraqis to take a greater role. "The people I have in mind, I haven't quite convinced them yet," says Krause. "They're fairly prominent businesspeople, and I think I can talk them into it. I'm working on it. I think that I can."
Essay It Ain't So
In honor of yet another commemorative section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the River City's Only Daily is asking readers to submit 100-word essays describing what makes this town so speshal.
Like you, Unreal's first thought upon learning of the contest and reading the online instructions at www.stltoday.com/writing was: What a stupid idea.
Our second thought was: How can we help?
The answer: We'll encourage folks to enter! And to make it even easier, we'll write their essays for them! Just pick your favorite of the three exactly-100-word essays below and then, Mad Libs style, personalize it. When you're done, send it to email@example.com or Richard Weiss, 900 North Tucker Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63101.
1.) St. Louis is my home. Though I've never lived here, coming in from [Chesterfield/Wentzville/Edwardsville] for Cardinals' games as a kid was a blast. I remember the first time I saw the Cards choke in the postseason, in [1985/1987/1996] -- I nearly spit up my [Bud Light/Bud Ice/ Bud Dry]! Years later, returning to the city as an adult [for Soulard Mardi Gras' drunken debauchery/for Ted Drewes' legendary frozen custard/because I took the wrong exit], my car was stolen. With time on my hands, I ate some [Lee's/Church's/ Popeyes] fried chicken and waited for the police to show up. [Larry Rice/Joyce Meyer/Brenda Warner] saw me on the street and took me to church, and now I'm saved.
2.) People who dis St. Louis because of its [rampant violent crime/poor air quality/lack of culture] are way off base. In fact, we have some of the nicest [chop suey joints/package liquor stores/escaped mental patients] in the nation. Also some of the best-looking [women/men/homosexuals] around. And some of the funniest people, such as [John Goodman/Dick Gregory/ John Ashcroft], hail from somewhere around here. We may not be as "cultured" as [the French/New Yorkers/Gary, Indianans], but that's because we're Show Me State residents and we expect you to show us [you're genuine/you're Christian/your tits] before we'll trust you. We may be overweight, but if you ate as much [toasted ravioli/thin-crust pizza/squirrel meat] as we do, you'd be full too!
3.) "What high school did you go to?" That is the St. Louis question. If you asked me, I'd say, "[I went to John Burroughs/I went to Country Day/None of your goddamn business!]" and then [take you out to J. Buck's for a beer/comment on your Izod shirt and fine pleated Dockers/slap you upside the head till you started bawling]. To me, there are more important questions, such as: "[Why can't we heal our racial divisions/ When will migration to the suburbs end/Where did you get your breasts augmented]?" If all we're concerned about is the superficial -- like what kind of [dress/juice/fire-Buddha] [Miss USA/Cornell Haynes/Bob Cassilly] is [wearing/pimping/smoking] -- we're never going to rise to the level of our intellectual forebears like [Howard Nemerov/Kate Chopin/Ike Turner]. Until that time, let's get back to doing what we do best: [eating way too much/drinking way too much/spreading sexually transmitted diseases].